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May 10, 2012; Source: Metro (The Canadian Press)

Tories in Canada have been making a big thing about U.S. and other foreign interests sending money to Canadian charities, particularly environmental groups that might oppose the environmental policies of the Stephen Harper government (or perhaps provincial governments), particularly when it comes to oil pipelines and related controversies. But an analysis by the Canadian press of the ten top “foreign-funded charities” in the country revealed only one to be a “conservation group.” That one was Ducks Unlimited Canada, which receives funding in part from its U.S. Ducks Unlimited cousin, a very large organization, though not typically thought of as on the front lines of edgy environmental policy advocacy.

Receiving the largest amount of foreign funding was Care Canada, followed by World Vision Canada, both of which get a sizable piece of their revenues from foreign donors and, notably, from United Nations agencies. Others in the top ten include the Canadian UNICEF Committee and McMaster University in Hamilton (with foreign students’ tuition counted as foreign funding).

In all of the charities’ cases, the proportion of their total revenues attributable to non-Canadian sources was very small. The numbers don’t seem to make the case of Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver that “foreign special interest groups” are hijacking Canadian governmental processes, nor the case of Environment Minister Peter Kent, who hinted that foreign-funded environmental groups might be engaged in money laundering.

U.S. data sources show at least one Canadian charity receiving more foreign money than it purportedly reported to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). IRS reports show the Tides Canada Foundation receiving $63 million from U.S foundations while reporting to Canadian authorities only $7.8 million in foreign funding, but that may be due to a quirk in the CRA reporting requirements, which did not have a specific line for funding from outside of Canada before 2009.

In any case, at least among the largest recipients of foreign funding, the contentions of ministers Oliver and Kent do not seem to be supported. The flows of charitable capital across borders sometimes cause consternation with some authorities in the recipient countries who are concerned about how much “foreign influence” there might be over indigenous charities. At least with the top ten recipients of foreign money in Canada, the influence, such as it is, seems to be relatively benign and humanitarian.—Rick Cohen